Project 591 - The Early to Middle Palaeozoic Revolution

The presence of at least eight major perturbations to the global carbon cycle in roughly 40 million years demonstrates that the Late Ordovician to Early Devonian interval was among the climatically least stable episodes of Earth history. Following the Great Ordovician Biodiversification Event (GOBE) and prior to the Devonian Terrestrial Revolution, this interval represents a unique opportunity to study in detail the cause-and-effect relationships of significant global planetary change within a biologically fully populated ocean-atmosphere-biosphere system but prior to the development of a significant global terrestrial biosphere.

The Late Ordovician to Early Devonian interval contains several of the most severe paleoclimate and paleobiological events in Earth history including paleobiodiversity events and perturbations to the global carbon cycle near the base of the Katian, Ordovician-Silurian boundary, Llandovery-Wenlock boundary, middle Homerian, middle Ludfordian, and Silurian-Devonian boundary, among others. This interval of Earth history also contains the acme and amelioration of the Early Paleozoic Ice Age, which provides an important historical analogue for researchers of modern climate change. Additionally, the Late Ordovician-Early Devonian interval contains the roots of the invasion of life onto land. The Earth did not go quietly into the Middle Paleozoic and the primary research objective of this project is to investigate this dynamic and important interval in the history and evolution of life and our planet.

Late Ordovician to Early Devonian strata are of global economic and environmental significance as source rocks, host rocks, targets, aquifers, and potential sites of sequestration and containment. Much of the North African and Arabian oil is either sourced from or housed in Late Ordovician to Early Devonian strata. Silurian carbonates are the host rocks of globally significant deposits of mineral resources such as gold, zinc, and lead. Two of the largest salt deposits on the planet were deposited during the Silurian Period, and the globally expansive Late Ordovician to Early Devonian carbonate platforms are utilized as a source of limestone for chemical, industrial, and architectural use worldwide. The broad epicontinental platforms common during this interval often act as local or regional aquifers for municipal and agriculture water use, and in some areas, are being targeted as potential sites for CO2 sequestration and hazardous waste containment studies as well. Improved understanding of the temporal, geospatial, and ultimately causal relationships between these resources and Late Ordovician-Early Devonian global planetary change has direct economic and environmental significance, and additionally, is critical to understanding the Early to Middle Paleozoic Revolution. Specifically, this project will investigate the biological, chemical and physical evolution of the ocean-atmosphere-biosphere system during this dynamic interval of Earth history by addressing in detail the relationships between climate, sea level, tectonics, biology, oceanography, volcanism, and the stratigraphic record of Early to Middle Paleozoic global planetary change. This project will be conducted in collaboration with the International Subcommissions on Ordovician, Silurian, and Devonian Stratigraphy (SOS, SSS, SDS), and will be accomplished in successive steps over the five-year duration of the project (2011-2015).

  • 2011 – Improving global biostratigraphic and chronostratigraphic correlation
  • 2012 – Reconstructing global sea levels, sequence stratigraphy and paleogeography
  • 2013 – Identifying biological, chemical and physical indicators of global planetary change
  • 2014 – Addressing evolutionary paleoecology, paleobiodiversity and paleobiogeography
  • 2015 – Oceanographic and climate modelling of Early to Middle Paleozoic events
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